Identity theft is the fastest growing type of crime – each year an estimated 500,000 people become victims of this type of fraud. Identity theft involves acquiring key pieces of someone’s identifying information. This can include name, address, date of birth, social security number or mother’s maiden name. With this information, a criminal can commit numerous forms of fraud both to you and to others while using your identity. The California law (PC 530.5) that made identity theft a crime was enacted in 1998.
Common Methods of Identity Theft
Stealing a wallet has always been the established way to steal someone’s identity. However, other methods are becoming very popular:
- “Dumpster diving" in your trash for credit card and loan applications that can contain SSNs.
- Stealing mail from mailboxes to obtain credit cards, bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, financial or tax information.
- Posing as an employer, loan officer or landlord to get a copy of your credit history.
- Obtaining names and SSNs from personnel or customer files in the workplace (i.e. paycheck stubs or applications).
- "Shoulder surfing" at ATM machines and phone booths for numbers.
- Searching Internet sites that list public records or using fee-based research services.
How You Can Prevent Being a Victim
While you cannot completely prevent identity theft, you can significantly reduce your risk of fraud by following some guidelines. The most important one is to check your credit report at least once a year. If you do become a victim of identity theft, you can catch it early by checking your credit report regularly. Other steps you should consider:
- Do not carry your Social Security card, your birth certificate or passport with you unless you need it for a specific reason.
- Do not print your driver’s license or social security number on your check.
- Do not carry more than two credit cards with you.
- Always take credit/debit card receipts with you. Never throw them in a public trashcan.
- Do not leave bill payment envelopes at your mailbox for the postal carrier to pick up, especially with the little red flag up. This is an invitation.
- Shred unused pre-approved credit card applications, receipts, bills and other financial information.
- Cancel your unused credit cards and limit the number of open credit card accounts you have.
- Never give out personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call and have a trusted business relationship with the person you are talking to.
- Release your Social Security number only when necessary.
- If you are missing a credit card statement or it appears late, a thief may have filed a change of address request with the post office or the creditor. Call the creditor and check if there have also been additional cards requested. Call the post office to check on a change of address request.
- If you shop on the Internet, use a secure browser (look for “https:” in the browser address) or place your order by phone or mail.
- Check your Social Security Earnings and Benefits statement once a year to confirm no one else is using your number.
- Consider getting an unlisted home phone number.
- Make a list or photocopy of all your credit cards and keep this in a safe place.
- When making new passwords, do not use easily guessed ones like your birthday or Social Security number. Never carry a list of passwords with you.
- When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank instead of having them mailed to your home.
- Shield the keypad when at an ATM or using a phone calling card.
- Consider getting a paper shredder for your home to shred any personal information prior to throwing it away.
- Opt-out of pre-approved credit offers by contacting www.the-dma.org or calling 888-567-8688. You can request to be removed from mailing and calling lists.
If You Are a Victim of Identity Theft
Act quickly after learning you are a victim of identity theft. This can prevent further use of your credit identity. Keep a log of the date, time and substance of all in-person and telephone conversations related to the theft. File a police report. Keep the report number and obtain a copy of the report. You may need both to verify the crime to creditors.
Credit Bureaus: Ask that your file be flagged with a fraud alert and add a victim’s consumer statement to your report. Ask the credit bureaus for the names of any credit grantors where fraudulent accounts have been opened. Ask that the related inquiries be removed due to fraudulent access. Ask the credit bureaus to notify anyone that has received your credit report in the last six months and alert them to any disputed or fraudulent information. They are required to remove the fraudulent accounts from your credit report when you supply them with your police report (1785.16(k) Civil).Creditors: Contact all creditors immediately with whom your name has been fraudulently used. You may need to fill out a fraud affidavit.
Checks: If your checks have been stolen or your bank information used fraudulently, report it to the bank. Put a stop on the checks in question, have the bank close your accounts and obtain new ones. Have the bank set up a password for the new accounts.
Social Security Number: Call SSI and report the fraudulent use. As a last resort, have your number changed (http://www.ssa.gov or 800-772-1213).
Drivers License: If someone uses your driver’s license to write a fraudulent check, you may need to change your number. Contact the DMV (www.dmv.ca.gov) and put an alert on your number. You may need to go to your local office and file a complaint form so an investigation can be authorized.
Postal Fraud or Change of Address: One method of identity theft involves sending your mail to another address. This allows the thief to intercept you personal information as it arrives in the mail. If this occurs, contact your local Postmaster. Find out where your mail is going and notify the Postmaster of the related office (http://www.usps.com/postalinspectors/).
Other Federal Agencies to Contact:Department of Justice www.ag.ca.gov/idtheft/general.htm Federal trade Commission www.ftc.gov California Dept. of Consumer Affairs www.dca.ca.gov
While this information is intended to aid victims of identity theft, the Pacifica Police Department does not accept any cost or liability associated with its use.